Schell was a pioneer in genetics who focused on the interaction between plants and soil bacteria. Along with his colleague, Marc Van Montagu, Jeff Schell discovered the gene transfer mechanism between Agrobacterium and plants, which resulted in the development of methods to alter Agrobacterium into an efficient delivery system for gene engineering in plants. Besides being an excellent scientist, he founded in collaboration with Marc Van Montagu the successful biotech company Plant Genetic Systems Inc., Belgium in 1982, now part of Bayer CropScience.
Many of the most prominent science journals published (sometimes exceptionally) obituaries in honor of Jeff Schell.
Schell, J; Van Montagu, M (1977). "The Ti-plasmid of Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a natural vector for the introduction of nif genes in plants?". Basic life sciences9: 159–79. doi:10.1007/978-1-4684-0880-5_12. PMID336023.
Herrera-Estrella, Luis; Depicker, Ann; Van Montagu, Marc; Schell, Jeff (1983). "Expression of chimaeric genes transferred into plant cells using a Ti-plasmid-derived vector". Nature303 (5914): 209–13. Bibcode:1983Natur.303..209H. doi:10.1038/303209a0.